Things started out like most big junior races, kids weren’t used to riding in such a big field and for the first 5 miles there was a lot of surging followed by hard braking and ballooning.
It was pretty chaotic and starting in the back didn’t help much. So I just focused on trying to get towards the front before the covered bridge on Eagleville rd. since I didn’t trust a lot of the kids in the back and wanted to stay out of trouble on the first dirt section. I made it up on the right side of the road just in time for the bridge crossing (epic) and stayed in the front half for the following dirt section (also epic). Things became pretty ballooned again after dirt section #1 and the moto official eventually gave up trying to enforce the yellow line rule.
Next up was the first little climb before the juniper swamp road. I moved up to the front and opened my legs a bit. The legs were feeling pretty good and warmed up by this point so I just got out of the wind on the downhill and sat in 10 wheels back going onto Juniper swamp. At that hill I made sure to stay in the front and it was a good thing too because the group split here. The 2nd peloton caught back on, but by the looks of it they had to take quite a dig to manage. Everything regrouped after the feed-zone in Shushan.
Things really slowed down in between Shushan and Salem. This was a very nice section of open countryside though so I am thinking everyone enjoyed the cease-fire. A few kids rode off the front and the pace went back up entering Salem however. Eventually, the kids were caught, but the pace stayed up for the roads bringing us to the Joe Bean climb. I had heard a bit about this climb before and I exected that things would break up here so I made sure to stay near the front for when things started to heat up. Just as I had thought the pace really picked up as members of the Rocky Mountain junior team started to try and bring back a rider dangling up the hill. The climb got pretty fast towards the top and I was dodging kids falling out of the lead group. I put in a hard dig and got a good wheel in the lead group and stayed there for the remainder of the climb. We crested the climb with about 10 kids together, but things kind of regrouped again for the next dirt section. The next series of roads were pretty uneventful, but I knew there was more fun just around the corner as we were now approaching the new section of the course with a pretty loose gravel climb.
Coming onto Carney and Cassidey road was good though. I just followed a hot tubes rider up the left side of the road (nice dirt path that nobody else seemed to notice) and stayed up front. I responded to a few of his attacks and then things settled on the top of the climb, but after this the same hot tubes rider followed someone off the front and they started to open a sizable gap on the pavement. Knowing that this was a winning move I got to the front with a CL Noonan rider and a few other of the stronger riders and we went off to get them and opened up a good gap. It took a little yelling, but we got organized and caught the hot tubes rider and his breakaway mate about 5min later and rolled through the 2nd feed zone in a group of about 10.
Coming onto mountain road, the peloton caught us. It must have really shattered though because there were about 110 juniors that started and the peloton that caught us was around 30 riders. The pace stayed pretty high as a flurry of attacks kept coming from Canadian and America riders. Towards the end of the road everything had just come together and I was sitting second wheel when a Specialized Espoirs rider went off the front. I was left in the wind and I wanted someone else to close the gap so I sat up. When I saw everyone else was content with doing the same I just lifted my tempo slightly and opened a pretty large gap. I looked back once and then went as far into the pain cave as my junior gears would allow. I caught the Specialized rider by Becker road and we got together and put the hammer down. We had a surprisingly huge gap going over meeting house road and we couldn’t see the chase group that some of the stronger riders had organized until a few miles before stage road. Not knowing that the group had snuck up on us, we pushed it hard. Stage road was tough because we had been working so hard, but we made it over without getting caught. By this point I didn’t know that the chase group of 7 had come so fast and I was too busy thinking about the last 5k to realize that the gap had shrunk to about 10 seconds. I looked back coming onto the pavement at the top of Stage road and saw that my time off the front had come to an end.
We were caught at the end of the downhill and it was time for the attacking to begin. A series of failed escapes by some of the riders discouraged some of the riders and stopped what could have been a painful end to the race. I just grabbed a wheel and tried to get the legs recovered enough for the group sprint. From 3k to 1k nobody moved. I saw the hot tubes rider go under the 1k banner and I grabbed 5th wheel. I came around the two corners ready to sprint, but tried to cut inside to get to 3rd wheel on the last corner and had to slam my brakes because I would have been pushed into the barriers by another kid. By that point I had lost all momentum and my legs only had enough kick to maintain my place. I rolled across the line in 7th.
I feel that this was a very positive first experience at Battenkill. My goal for the race had been to make it in the winning move and I accomplished this and came pretty close to a podium finish. I might have messed up my sprint, but I definitely had a blast and also learned a lot about where my fitness is and what I will need to work on in the coming weeks. This was certainly the most epic race I have attended and I suggest it to anyone looking for a well-run and challenging race next year.